Thursday, December 13, 2012

SchoolhouseTeachers.Com Review

The folks at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine have put forth a new venture: I've been exploring the site, and whether you are a seasoned homeschooler looking to fill some gaps in your current curriculum, or a new homeschooler wondering where to begin, you will find great information and resources at! The goal is to have everything you need to homeschool your children, from kindergarten through graduation, in one place, at a price you can afford. The teachers are experts in their field, and many are names I recognized: Michelle Miller, Terri Johnson, and Diana Waring, just to name a few. aims to be a versatile resource, and you can use it not only from your desktop or laptop, but from your mobile device as well. I could, conceivably, run my entire school day using my iPad. If you want printable lesson plans, each lesson is set up to download as a PDF file. (Well, not the videos. That would be tricky.)  You can do whatever works best for you - paper you can hold in your hand, or electronic format.

The site debuted back in March 2012, and has already grown significantly. There are 24 subject areas, including everything from core subjects like grammar, math and science, to great opportunities like film making and college choice guidance. In addition to teaching materials, they offer plenty of extras for the teacher, too, like access to ALL FIVE Schoolhouse Planners. The Schoolhouse Planner for the teacher is normally $39.95, and the student planners vary in price. That alone is a great value for the price of your membership!

One thing I *loved* at first sight was the Monthly Reading List by Michelle Miller. Michelle is the author of Truthquest History, and has a private lending library of living books in Michigan. I am delighted to have access to her monthly recommendations, both for library visits and as possible books to add to our home library. She gives books for all ages, and I can see all of my children enjoying the books, whether I was reading to them, or my big girls were reading to my little boy.

Another feature that I would find immensely helpful is the daily checklist. In my never-ending struggle to become more organized, I find checklists to be so useful. Because of the volume of information on the site, I can see that having the checklist handy would be the ticket to keeping me on track and remembering to do each thing I wanted to cover with my children.

One feature I'd like to point out is the Special Needs section. There are lessons available for parents with a struggling/special needs student, to help you learn how to work with them at their level, choosing the right curriculum, etc. I know many families with at least one special needs child. If I were figuring out some issues with one of my students, this would be a huge help, I would think.

In our Charlotte Mason homeschool, there would have to be some tweaking for us to use this as our primary curriculum. I could use the history section, for example, but I would use the timeline and find living books for us to read and discuss. There are some great activities that go along with the history studies that I would certainly pull in. The copywork, as given, is great for handwriting practice, but I would want to pull it from our readings. I would be the "seasoned homeschooler" that doesn't need a full curriculum, but could find lots to use.

It's impossible for me to completely describe this website in a brief review. I hope take a look for yourself. The cost for membership is $1 for the first month, and $5.95 for each month after that. Right now, they're running a special promotion, which includes a 1-year membership for only $49, AND  you also will receive the Old Schoolhouse 2013 Annual Print Book and a TOS tote bag. I love tote bags. Do you love tote bags? Can you ever have enough tote bags? Oh dear, I may be wandering a bit off the point. There are some other nice bonus gifts that you would receive with your membership, too. Head on over and check it out!


Disclaimer: I received a free membership to in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some of My Favorite Christmas Books

Continuing along the same vein as my previous post, I thought I'd share some of my very favorite picture books to read with my children during the Christmas season. I have had a passion for children's books since long before I had children of my own, and have collected quite a stack of Christmas books. The ones I will mention here are not new for 2012, but they are such beautiful stories, I hope you'll take a look.

A fairly recent discovery of mine, which I learned about from someone at the Well-Trained Mind forums, is Santa's Favorite Story: Santa Tells the Story of the First Christmas by Hisako Aoki.
I confess that we don't "do" Santa. My girls asked me years ago if Santa was real, and I had to tell them no. I love the idea of Santa, and we watch all the Santa Christmas specials (and own most of them on DVD), but we prefer to focus on the birth of Christ at Christmas. However, this book touched my heart and I love to read it aloud. In the story, Santa goes for a walk in the woods, ends up farther away than he realizes, and sits down to take a nap. The forest animals come across him sleeping, and become quite concerned, because it's Christmas Eve, and they are sure there can be no Christmas without Santa. When Santa wakes up, he soothes their fear and tells them of the first Christmas when Jesus was born. The illustrations are lovely watercolors, which add to the charm of the book.

Another favorite is called The Greatest Gift by Melody Carlson. This book is about a little angel named Grace. As the time for Jesus to be born on earth approaches, God asks for an angel to volunteer to be the star that shines in the heavens to light the Son's way. The angels are reluctant to volunteer, because they have to give up the glory of heaven, and whoever becomes the start won't be an angel anymore. Grace cannot bear the thought of the Son going to earth alone, so she comes forward. After the star is done shining, it falls to earth, and becomes a stone. Grace is still aware of everything, even as a falling star and then as a rock. She ends up being the stone that covers the door of Christ's tomb. This story has a fantastic ending, and I don't want to spoil it for you. It's out of print, but perhaps you can find it at the library, or even purchase it used. It's worth owning.

The last one I will mention here is called The Littlest Angel, by Chris Tazewell. This story is about a little boy who died on earth and is now an angel in heaven. He has a hard time being an angel and doing all the things angels are supposed to do; he wasn't really ready to be done being a little boy. He is allowed to return to earth and retrieve a box of his special mementos from earth, and that helps him settle in to heaven a bit better. As Christ is preparing to leave heaven to be born on earth, all the angels want to present Him with a gift. The one He chooses as His favorite is what makes this story so precious. I cry every time I read this book. I hope you have the opportunity to read it with your family.

These three are at the top of my list. I have many more Christmas books that I love, and I may pull them out and share them with you sometime, but if you're looking for some new stories to read with your family this year, these are wonderful!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A New Christmas Book Find

We go to Sam's Club every weekend to do the bulk of our grocery shopping, and I always look at the books. I don't often find anything exciting, but occasionally I come across something worth having. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I found The Miniature World of Peter Rabbit. These wee books contain original pictures and unabridged text, and I simply could not resist getting them for my littlest niece, who loves tiny things, like I do. I am sure she will enjoy hearing these lovely Beatrix Potter stories, assuming her parents can read the miniscule print. Ha.

This week, I found The Twelve Days of Christmas in North Carolina. At first glance, I thought it would be silly, but as I went through it, I was pleasantly surprised. There is a lot of great information about our state in this book, and it's written in a lovely narrative style. It starts out with a little girl named Abby receiving a letter from her cousin, Mark, stating that her Christmas gift this year is a trip to NC to hang out with him and his mom. They proceed to fly all over the state, visiting some of the tourist highlights, and also working in things like the state bird (cousin Mark has a pet cardinal), state flower (dogwood), state insect (the honeybee), and the state carnivorous plant (the Venus flytrap). I had no idea there was such a thing as a state carnivorous plant. She even mentions some festivals, including the Statesville Balloon Festival, which we attended this past October. Abby describes her trip to her parents by writing them a letter each day, describing what she's done.

I don't often come across contemporary books that qualify as living books, but I like this one. I learned things about NC I didn't know, just skimming through it. This book is one in a series called "Twelve Days of Christmas in America," and as far as I can tell, there are 20 books available so far. You might check and see if your state is available. I like the North Carolina book, and will probably also get Michigan book, since Todd and I are Michigan natives. I may try to collect the series, because I think they are nifty!

If you love Christmas books like I do, this one is worth checking out. You're not going to find anything about "the reason for the season," but you will learn about North Carolina and some reasons you might want to visit. If it makes you feel better, consider it a geography lesson.

Edit: I just read this to Isaac, and on day 5, they talk about shipwrecks and pirates. They tell the legend of Blackbeard, and how his head was cut off and hung on the prow of a ship, and that his ghost is still there. I have no idea why this is mentioned in a Christmas book, and Isaac didn't bat an eye, but I thought I'd mention it.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

When I first heard about homeschooling, my oldest child was getting ready to enter Kindergarten. When I was young, children went to Kindergarten for half a day. Nowadays, most public schools have full-day programs for 5-year-olds, and I must confess, I was not impressed with the idea of sending my girlie away from me for that many hours per week. The friend who introduced me to the idea of homeschooling also introduced me to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. What a blessing it was, when considering homeschooling for the very first time, to read a magazine filled with articles written by people who actually knew what they were doing! I had a subscription, and it was lovely. It's a magazine for Christian homeschoolers, and I appreciated the words of faith and encouragement I found there from people who were in the trenches, so to speak, doing this thing that scared me even as I knew God was leading me down the path to teach my children at home.

Alas, I am *terrible* about reading magazines. I love the idea of them, but somehow, I never quite get around to reading them. After a while, I let my subscription to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine lapse. I tried ripping out the articles I enjoyed, thinking I would file them. Guess what? That never happened either. I ended up recycling everything when the paper mess became too much to deal with.

Enter The Old Schoolhouse ELECTRONIC FORMAT! There are some smart people in charge of The Old Homeschoolhouse these days, and not only have they gone paperless, but every issue is FREE. That's right: FREE. You can read to your heart's content online (see The Old Schoolhouse Magazine December issue), or download a free app for your Apple, Kindle or Android device. You can also download a PDF to your computer, if you prefer. I have been reading on my iPad, and it's wonderful. I can bookmark articles, and share them via email, Facebook or Twitter. Since I have the magazine on my iPad, it's easy to take with me, so I can read anywhere, any time.

When I started reading the December issue, I was beyond thrilled to find spelling and grammar are highlighted with several articles. My passions are spelling and grammar - just ask my husband and children. Ruth Beechick discusses "Who Needs Grammar?" (p. 66). I love this quote: "Children use mostly correct grammar as they copy the speech of the people around them." This is true, particularly the "mostly" part. I am a linguist by education, and I find child language acquisition fascinating. That is a post for another day, perhaps. (Then again, maybe not.) Her final paragraph is interesting:

The word grammar sounds scary. And some of it is complex. But it really is not hard. Children use mostly correct grammar as they copy the speech of the people around them. Later on, then, it is fairly easy to learn from grammar books the definitions and rules for grammar. The books just describe what the children already use and understand.

I will have to ponder that. I would not say that my children find grammar easy at this point in their education. She suggests that many parents start too early teaching grammar; I don't think it's too early for my girls, who are in 6th & 7th grades, but we're not having an easy go of it. I'm considering looking for a different program, even though I was excited about the one I chose.

There is an entire article on when to use lie vs. lay ("Lie or Lay . . . Which Word Should I Say?", p. 68), with an extra inset on effect vs. affect. The very next article is on the parts of speech ("Parts of Speech: Building Blocks of Beautiful Sentences", p. 72), and later on, I found "The Spelling Apologist: Why Good Spelling Is Essential and How to Select the Right Curriculum" (see p. 98).

The main focus of the issue is high school: options for homeschool graduates, financial aid, preparing for college - even what a homeschool mom might do when this stage of her life is done. I confess that these articles make me panic a little because I am not quite ready to think about any of my babies leaving home, but with a child in 7th grade, it's not as far off as I'd like to believe. I need to "go there."

Perhaps the most fun article for me to read is titled "Astronomy in The Hobbit," written by Jay Ryan, author of Classical Astronomy. The girls and I are currently reading The Hobbit, and are trying to finish before the movie comes out. I'm also trying to establish astronomy as a family hobby. To be honest, I paid no attention to the details discussed in the article, but as I read them, I thought, "How COOL!" and I will most definitely point them out to the girls. I will likely have them read the article, but not until we've read past all the parts mentioned from the book. I don't want to spoil the story!

Overall, this is a great magazine for Christian homeschoolers. There are well-written articles of encouragement and information written by people who are well-known in the realm of home education, from all different paradigms: classical, unit study, Charlotte Mason, and so on. There are excellent reviews of curricula and other products that homeschoolers may find useful. I hope you will take a look and see what there might be in it for you.

Click the link to check out reviews by The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew!

--> Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.